Himara

Himara is tiny community in south Albania in the southwest part of the Acrocerauni mountains range /Ceraunian Mountains, the stunning and mostly untouched mountain range/, with the Cika Peak, which dominates on 2045 meters above the crystal waters of the wonderful Ionian sea. The Himara wonderful coast line starts from the Llogara Pass in the northwest and at the borders of the Borshi River to the southwest, population 28000 including the surrounding villages and some of the most wonderful beaches that are true pearls of the emerald Ionian Riviera of Albania, at the wonderful villages of Palase, Dhermi, Ilias, Vuno, Himare, Pilur, Kudhes, Qeparo, Borsh, Piqeras, Sasaj, Lukove, Coraj, Kuc, Kallarat, Bolene and Vranisht. Palasa Beach is the first beach after the Llogara Pass with a breathtaking seaside landscape, which serves even as an welcome spot for air sports lovers who jump with a parachute from the Llogara Pass and fall precisely in the Palasa Beach. Continuing the journey from Valona along the gorgeous Albanian Riviera towards the south, while enjoying magic panorama of Corfu and further to Italy, you will come across the small city of Himara, which has two neighborhoods: Old Himara built on the hill, whose western side goes sharply to the sea, and New Himara in the gulf of Spille. Albanian Riviera is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and unspoiled regions in Albania. The Adriatic and Ioanian coast of Albania are of a dramatic beauty, featuring fine white sandy beaches.

The town of Himara is the center of the region and the administrative center of the municipality of Himara, including the villages of Palasa, Gjileku, Dhërmi, Iliasi, Vunoi, Piluri, Kudhësi and Qeparoi, which are situated up high on the spurs of the Ceraunian range in positions which offered natural defenses against the nearby Lab Albanians during the Ottoman rule. Akrokeravnia Mountains of Himara offer many opportunities for mountain climbing and hiking. The peaks of Tsika, Avgo, Messimeri and many more are intimidating challenges to any mountain climber. There are also mountain trails that are ideal for beginners while others are suitable only for very experienced climbers.
The name of Himara-Chiamera derives from ancient times through the Orthodox bishopric of Chimara, which was settled in the 5th century BC. The village of Himara, situated in a strong dreamlike position on the lip of a gorge is set among the ruined and deserted fortifications of the ancient city, which was the capital of the Chaonians of this rocky, steep coast. The Chaonians were one of the three principal Hellenized pre-Illyrian tribes of Epirus, along with the Molossians and Pelasgians. In classical antiquity, Himarë was part of the Kingdom Epirus under the rule of the Molossian Aeacid dynasty, which included King Pyrrhus of Epirus. When the region was conquered by the Roman Republic in the 2nd century BC, its settlements were badly damaged and some were totally destroyed by the Roman General Aemilius Paulus. A small plain below Chimera-Himara has an exposed beach, and the place was famous for its so-called royal spring of fresh water. It was a place of refuge for shipping on the very dangerous Ceraunian coast. There are numerous historical, cultural and religious sites to visit at Himara, which has traces of the constant human habitation and finds dating 3500 years ago. The old town of Himara and the Castle ruins with deserted Bishop’s residence /built on the ruins on an ancient temple dedicated to the God Phoebus Apollo/ make an outstanding monument of culture which requires urgent protection in order to avoid further deterioration and irreversible damage. The foundations of the Himara Castle walls have large cyclopick stones, typed as Pelasgic walls, dating possibly from the Bronze age. Work of some scholars testify about church organization on its territory, upon geographical location, that make evidence that the main area of Vagenitia /Vayonetya/ had belonged from the 11th and the 15th century to the Episcopate od Himara. Vagenitia area was mentioned from the 7th till the 15th century in historical records as the geographical area along the east coast of the Ionian sea, and the administrtive  unit of varius levels. By the document from the 10th century, we see that Himara, as well as the Glavinica – further to the north, was part of the Episcopate. In the agreement of Partitio Romaniae, signed in 1204 by Venetians and the Crusaiders of the Fourth Crusade, after the fall of Constantinople – Tsarigrad, which defined division of Rumelia – the East Roman Empire between them, the territory of the Durrachium Province and Arban, with the areas of Glavinitsa and Vagentia were mentioned and determined to become the Venetian parts.  There is the charter by which the Epirote ruler and the Tsar Theodore Duca from Thesalonika confirms to the Corfu Mitropolnate thier possession over the Corfu and the islands and the tema of Vagantia. As the wide area of Glavinitsa in the lower course of the Vlossa – Vojusha river was under jurisdicion of Saint Clement and his Slavic Episcopate, established in 879, the researchers believe that the Episcopate of Vagenitia of 879 as the Episcopate of the Slavic tribe of Vayunites might be the for runner of the Savic Episcopaate of Saint Clement.

Himara nowadays features gravel beaches with deep, clear waters and comes to life during the summer tourist season, when visitors stay in various hotels or houses to rent.
Himara and surrounding sites of interest : Panagia Kasopitra is the Byzantine type church with an icon of Panagia – the Mother of Christ, believed to be miraculous. In periods of drought the Himara locals would parade the icon and sing hymns and strong rain would follow shortly. The Episcopal Church of Himara is a Byzantine church in front of the now ruined building of the Bishop’s residence. The church door bears a marble relief of the Byzantine two-headed eagle. The bishop’s residence was built over the foundations of an ancient building considered to have been the temple of Apollo. Spyromilios Residence is the old mansion house of the Spyromilios family that played such a major role in the history of Himara. Spyros Spyromilios liberated Himara in 1912 and was its leader for a certain period. Agioi Pantes /All Saints/ Church has been built around 1775 at the entrance of the Himara Castle. Cosmas Aetolos preached here and the church, now renovated, is once more the cathedral of Himara. The Akrokeravinios School is the Greek school of Himara, next to the church of Agioi Pantes, whose first building was erected around 1775 and today the school has been fully renovated and is once more fully operational. On the mountain slopes above Himara lies the old monastery to Panagia Athaliotissa, approachable only on foot. Agious Theodoru Monastery is the Monastery located between the villages Liates and Drymades – Dhermi, dedicated to Saint Theodore. Panagias Monastery – Drymadon is the pure white building, with distinctive architecture is located on the peak over the Dhermi village. The village of Drimadhes – Dhermi, one of the seven villages of the Himara region, is the second village a traveler sees once past the pass of Llogara and its national park. Located at the foot of Acroceraunian mountains, /which the Roman poet Horace calls as “infames scopulos Acroceraunia”/, overseeing quite a long beach and a marvelous Ionian sea and amidst the green olives grooves and citrus plantations, the village of Dhermi features a magnificent beauty.

The English landscape painter Edward Lear describes it as “more magnificent in his location than any other village I have seen in Acroceraunia and resemble no little Atrani and Amalfi (in Italy)”. As Himara (or Chimara) etymology is claimed to be from the Greek “Ravine” or even “Chimera”; the explanation of the name Dhermi is pretended to be the Greek term – “dhrimadhes” meaning “oak tree” – based in the local natural vegetation. A second hypothesis is again from a Greek term “dhromos”- road justified by the location of the village near the road. The official, Albanian name Dhërmi is mainly used by those inhabitants and seasonal workers who use the southern (Tosk) or the northern (Ghek) Albanian dialect. Many of these newcomers and seasonal workers moved to the village from other parts of Albania either during the period of communism or after it. In contrast to Dhërmi, the local, Greek name Drimades is mainly used by the inhabitants who are believed to “originate” from the village and who mainly use the local Greek dialect and partly the southern Albanian (Tosk) one.

The foundation of the Dhermi village is probably lost in the history. Dhermi is the settlement with some 1800 inhabitans where the attractions of the deep, clean, blue Ionian sea are perfectly combined with the clear and healthy air of the nearby mountains. Protected in the north from the winds by the Karaburun peninsula, the Dhermi village is attractive even in winter, not to mention during summer. Cited as one of the pearls of the Albanian Riviera, Dhermi is certainly one of the most attractive coastal destinations of Albania, as per all tourist- and guide-books of Albania. In Dhermi are offered water games, diving techniques and scuba-diving lessons. The village of Dhermi is of particularly beauty with its characteristic Southern architecture amidst the authentic fragrant Mediterranean greenery. The well educated, polyglots and hospitable local inhabitants of Dhërmi/Drimades enhance the values of their village, and perform continuity of movements and interrelations through which they recreate and reproduce the sense of locatedness of “their” village and “themselves”. During the week most of the village men spend their time in kafenio – coffee shop, where they chat, play cards and sometimes sing, while the women do the housework, cook and work in the garden. On Sunday they all go to church as they are very religious people. The big churches of the Dhermi village, as the Monastery of the Holy Virgin, located in the top of the hill of Dhermi – Drimadhes, and that of the Saint Theodore on the top facing the sea, as well as the churches of Saint Harallamb and Saint Spiridhon are interesting and worth-visiting religious buildings of Dhermi – Drimades. The mass is usually held Sundays and the location of the ceremony is not same.

Grammata – North of Palassa bay coast rocky side north at the bottom of Acroceraunian mountains, various epigraphs are carved out in Greek writing, letters and symbols. Gramata harbor located about 30 minutes by boat to the north of Drimadhes – Dhermi is a must see as it represents a real treasured outdoor museum in the very unusual and beautiful harbor. The earliest Gramata inscriptions date from the 3rd century BC, and continue during subsequent periods, until the 19th century. The earliest Gramata inscriptions are dedicated to various deities and prayer for deliverance from the storm at sea. In the Gramata inscriptions are mentioned many historical figures such as the Roman city of Pompeii, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, Marcus Antonius. Perhaps they are messages carved out by sailors before they sailed across the Strait of Otranto to Italy. Access to Grammata is only possible by sea.
Old Qeparo – Palaio Kiparo /or Ano Kiparo – Old or the Upper Kiparo – Old Qeparo/, set on a ridge of 300m above the sea level comes as the entire picturesque ‘stone village’ with its traditional architecture, the narrow stone cobbled streets, the old churches composing an overall magical image. Of particular interest are the erection inscriptions on various houses, some almost abandoned, providing a breathtaking panorama to the Ionian sea in the South and landscape full of olive trees. The family of George Tenet, former head of the CIA came from this village originally. Agiou Dimitroy /St Demetrius/ Monastery is white, renovated Monastery dedicated to Saint Demetrius, with a church of the same name is located in the Lower Kiparo – Kato Kiparo village. Sopot Castle ruins represent the Byzantine fort located near the village of Borsi along the mountain line. The Sopot castle is hardly accessible and the only access is on foot. Spilia Ton Pirates /The Pirate’s Cave/, on the beach north of Himara is a large cave that can only be accessed by sea. The Pirate’s cave is an interesting natural cave made famous by the book written by Petro Marko and the movie of the same title. Located in perpendicular rocks, in very deep waters it is one of most valuable tourist attraction, that brings you back in the Medieval history of Albania. The place is amazing and the beach ideal for a quiet swim. According to legend, the cave once provided a haven for pirates.

Himara is known for its wonderful beaches, most of which are pebble beaches, although some have sand. Spilia, the central beach of Himara attracts a lot of visitors in the summer. Further on there is Prinos, Potami, Filikouri, to the south lie Lamana, Kiparo, Borsi, the beaches at Pikerni /Bouneci/ and Loukovo and Kakomaea at Nivitsa / along a very perilous road/. Beneath the Castle of Himara is the Livadi and then to the north lies Giali, Foussa, Zissos, Zypaea, Karkaniki, Gialiskari at Drymades, Palassa and Dralaios, but also the Jala Beach which is located just before the village of Himara. At various points on the beaches of Himarra the water is cold because of the existing underground springs. A few dozen meters away from these points, however, the water temperature rises to normal levels. During the summer months many small boats offer rides to the beaches near Spilia.
The village of Borshi is situated a few hundred meters away from the shore, about 20 minutes from Himara. Borsh is the largest beach of the Albanian Riviera and its clear water stretches for almost 6 km. Several hotels, clubs, discotheques, and restaurants are built along the beach. The hospitality of the villagers and the traditional grilled lamb are distinctive features found in Borsh.
The last seaside village on the Albanian Riviera is the Lukova village, well known for its terraces of citrus and olives. Two km further you will find the popular Buneci Beach whose crystal-clear stream flows directly into the Ionian Sea. South of Lukova towards the Gulf of Kakome are several kilometers of coastline characterized by its gleaming white flint stones. You also can find a number of underwater caves in this area.
Himara, where Dhermi is included, has been inhabited by the Epirote tribe of Chaonians. Philip of Macedonia /father of Alexander the Great/ attacked Himara in 214 BC. In 167 B.C., it was a Roman naval base. Julius Caesar was the first great leader that set his foot in the beach near Drimadhes in his battle against Pompeus and it is said that while he was sailing close to these dangerous Acroceraunian shores pronounce the famous sentences to his sailors “Don’t fear as you are carrying the Caesar and his luck”. For a certain period, Himara was under the Bulgarian rule /904 AD/. A relative of Gjin Bua Shpata /Lord of Arta around 1370 AD/ settled in Dhermi. After the murder of Balsha II /a famous Medieval landlord/ in 1385, his wife “a true amazon” ruled upon Himara till 1392. Those were times of wars with Saracens, evidence of which are the Pirate’s Cave and the place named as Al-Evra. The famous Norman Guiskard and his son Boemund attempted to subdue the place, recognizing the supreme strategic position upon the Otranto strait. Gjon Kastrioti, the son of Scanderbeg – the Albanian National Hero, launched in Himara in 1481 after the death of his father an uprising against the Turks, which turned unsuccessful. As result of Turkish occupation, many Himariotes left Albania and founded some villages in Southern Italy. Himara, unlike most of the country was never fully conquered by the Ottoman Empire and was always symbol of resistance to the Turks. Together with Mirdita, both regions enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. According to the status signed by Sultan Bajazite II in 1492, Himara and its villages, should pay to the Sublime Port the sum of 16,000 francs per year. However, the region was governed by the local demogeronds. Suleiman the Magnificent tried to submit Himara, but in vain a Himariote called Damian, succeed to enter in his tent in an attempt to kill him. Himara /at that time composed of more than 50 villages/ was the center of several uprisings such those from 1481 till 1713. Ali Pasha of Yanina was the only Turkish /or Albanian as he was Albanian by the origin/ ruler successful in conquering Himara /1797/ and its villages. The story tells that he ordered to put the fire on the forest upon the village of Drimadhes. According to the history of Albania, the Suliotes, that were the major contributors of the Greek Independence, were migrated Himariotes. At that time, Lord Byron wrote the famous verses:
Shall the sons of Chimari who never forgive
the fault of a friend, bid an enemy life?
Let those guns so unerring such vengeance forgo?
What’s mark is so fair as the breast of a foe?
After the Albanian Independence, Himara was included in the new state, although in March 1914 the region was declared autonomous. In 1927 the Himara Protocol was signed between the region and the Albanian state that recognized the privileges of the region. 1930 marks the end of teaching the Greek language in Himara. During the First WW the Italians using the Austrian-Hungarian POW build the road between Vlora and the region that provided a big boost to the economic development of the Riviera. During the Italian-Greek war in 1940 Drimadhes was the most advance Greeks outpost whose inhabitants had settle in Vlora, Durresi up to Shkodra. The village took part in the National Liberation war and many of the inhabitants took part in the Riviera Fighting unit and in the 12th Brigade.
Himara Social – Economic Development: Edward Lear who in 1848 visited practically the majority of Albania wrote for the region that “the civilization of this part of Albania seems indeed beyond what I have seen”. In the early 20th century, the Dhermi village had two doctors, graduated in Vienna and in Athens. The first school was opened in 1630 and served as center of education for all the nearby inhabitants. Before the Second World War, emigration and agriculture /olive and agrumes growing/ as well as trade, were the major activities. The grapefruit, most of it produced for the Jew Communities, was the special trade commodity, together with the olive oil and agrumes. Emigration, especially to Greece, US, Australia, France was another source of income and at the same time, a source of tragedies and disillusions. Petro Marko, a famous Albanian writer describes as follows this social wound: “It’s said that the big stones below are the men that had returned back and had died here. While the men that had left and died abroad are transformed in clouds. They come, shed tears and leave. And the big stones, near the shore, collect their tears as the rain is collected”.
During socialism period Drimadhes – Dhermi joined the cooperative system only in 1957, when agriculture was the sole-income producing activity. Substantial migration to the large cities of Albania occurred then and Vlora, Durresi, Tirana, Berati were the most preferred. Drimadhiotes were famous in those days as good drivers and truck repairmen. A major part of the new generation were well educated in the universities and high schools. After 1990, the majority of the population migrated to Greece, taking advantage of the Greek language. At the same time, migration happened for US, Canada and other West-European countries. Only the olive growing and olive oil extraction remained profitable activities. On the other hand, tourism began to be an important profitable activity, although the great potential available was not fully exploited. The former Worker’s Rest House privatized in different parts, served as catalyst for the construction of many other buildings to address the increasing requests from all the country and abroad. The riots of 1997 and 1998 had their negative impact, but now tourism is constantly picking up.
Language: The coastal Himara region of Southern Albania has always had a predominantly ethnic Greek population. Like in two other villages in the region /Himara and Palasa/, the daily language of the Drimadhiotes is a vulgar form of Greek and Albanian comes as the second. A hypothesis for this is that Himariotes are a Greek minority. Another hypothesis is that the Greek was adopted as working language during Turkish attempts to occupy the settlement so the Himariotes were forced to flee in the neighboring Greek islands, and due the mutual trade, especially with Corfu. An interesting fact in supporting the second hypothesis is that the songs and especially mourning songs are performed in the Albanian language.
Himara Agriculture – the wealth of Himara agriculture depends mainly on the olive tree, with estimation of more than 47,000 trees. The cultivar Caliniot is most valuable for olive extraction than for table olives and dominates with above 92% of the olive trees. The maximum production achieved is 1,500 MT and the olive oil production is 300 MT/year. Citrus /oranges and lemons/, figs, grapes, nespolla /Chinese plum/ are the most important other plants, not to forget the natural vegetation such as prickly pear /called French or India figs by the villagers in Latin Opuntia/.
Religion: The inhabitants of the Himara region are converted Christians since early times. It’s reported that Himara had his own Bishop in the IX century. All the autochthonous inhabitants are Greek Orthodox Christians. Religion practices were observed even in the atheistic times of Albania in 1967-1990. An interesting fact here is that Drimadhes has numerous churches, about 35, one in about 20 families. There are three major monasteries – that of Saint Theodorus located in the hill outside the village, of the Virgin Mary in the top of the hill of Drimadhes, and the monastery of Stavridhi. There are two big churches, both located in the village, that of Saint Harallambi and that of Saint Spiridhon, refurbished in 1967. However, the majority of the village churches are small, built mostly by the emigrants returning from abroad. The churches of Saint Stephens and that of Saint Dhimitri, according to the text of History of Albania contain some of the oldest frescoes of Albania /12th century/. Reports of the 17th century testify of the efforts of the Catholic Church, through the Basilian order, to convert the Himariotes and especially the Drimadhiotes. Before the Second World War, the village had had eight priests. The most celebrated religious events are the Assumption Day /August 15/, Christmas /December 25/, Orthodox Easter and Blessed Water Day. While the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini was famous as the local governing Code in Northern Albania, Himara abides to a special variant of Code called as the Kanuni i Papa Zhulit. /Priest Jule’s Code/.
Alevra is an unusual place to visit and admired for the unusual deep blue water with the rock going almost vertically into the sea. A small, very attractive harbor with the rocky beach above which stands the hill with the monastery of Saint Theodhorus on top, Alevra is a must for the visitors. The locals have used these bays as arable land and to cultivate lemon, orange and tangerine trees, but with improved transportation, Jali and Gjipe have become increasingly important tourist destinations not only for the Albanians, but also for foreign tourists. Besides these two major beaches, there are several smaller ones most of which are not touched at all by human activity and are not to be missed by anyone visiting this uniquely beautiful region. The bay and the harbor of Gjipe is located in South of the Pirate’s cave and has a clean and fine sand. Once visited by tourists searching some privacy, these days it is frequented by many as it represents one of the most virgin beaches of Albania. It can be reached both by the sea and by the land.

 

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